A Joyful “Much Ado” at Congress Park

Saratoga Shakespeare Company returned with a splash – Wesley Broulik’s “Much Ado About Nothing” opened at Congress Park to a joyful audience, and rightfully so. It was wonderful to see the professional company of actors delve into a what I could only initially perceive as a re-imagining of one of the Bard’s best comedies. Some anachronistic choices remove the audience from what otherwise was a brilliant theme choice, and a gorgeous cast still delivers a passionate performance.

‘Much Ado’ is the story of two romantic pairs, Claudio and Hero and Beatrice and Benedick, that emerge when a fleet of soldiers descend on Messina, Italy. Their families and friends work to push and pull both pairs together, apart, and back together again while discussing honor, love, and war.

Saratoga Shakespeare Company elected to tell that story in the round. It was conducive to adding seats more so than anything else, but I loved what the creative team did by sitting the ensemble around the stage and keeping them as a part of the action, even when not onstage (case: Angela Ryan-Ledtke’s slide whistle work for the entrances of the very funny military members). Nonetheless, not all of the blocking was designed to be strongly viewed from all angles. When you attend, I would recommend sitting on the two sides to the right and left of the tech booth to see most of the action. I missed some of the acting from where I sat, especially from Michael Pemberton’s Don Jon.

The aforementioned action built steadily and progressively during the run to an emotional peak lead by Leigh Strimbeck as Leonata. She was a silent force early on, until she cracked the show wide open upon the jilting of her daughter Hero, played by the absolutely hysterical Aly Tu. Tu double dipped and stole the show with a hotel-bell constable cap as Verges. Strimbeck and Tu were well-matched, but Strimbeck’s performance defined the show for me.

Along the way the rest of the company made some choices, that while funny, that did not fit into the firmly anchored plot established by the opening of the show. When the characters enter, the idea is clear: we’re in World War I. They sing together in period appropriate costumes in a way that feels transformative. That idea slowly drifts away with quick snaps between friends, light saber noises, and a character named Conrad – emphasis on the RAD; a 90’s stoner type that felt out of place each time a line was delivered.

Despite what this writer feels were some underwhelming choices, it was beautiful to be outside with other humans, some of which were experiencing the prose of the Bard for the very first time. My favorite moments of the whole show where went Beatrice (Laura Menzie) and Benedick (Tim Dugan) traversed the audience while eavesdropping about the other’s love for the spy in question. I was seated close to a gaggle of elementary school aged children, and the element of humor was certainly not lost on them. I loved hearing them laugh with Menzie and Dugan remaining completely in character. You just know that one of them will grow up and cite this show as the reason why they started acting themselves. It truly was the definition of joyful.

I invite you to share in that happiness with the SSC.

There’s only one weekend – this weekend – to catch ‘Much Ado’ at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs. Tickets are free, but bring a folding chair. Learn more here.

Comments are closed.